In our Bible Study, Pastors Rob Sauers and Nathanael Mayhew take us through the book of 1 Peter. This epistle is written by the Apostle Peter most likely near the end of his life. He is writing to those Christians who are “sojourners and pilgrims” in this world (2:11). Though this letter deals quite a bit with the suffering and persecution Christians can expect to face in this world, it often, and rightly called the “Letter of Hope.” That hope is the Christian’s serene and confident dependence on God that is based on the unshakable certainty of the resurrection of the dead which is begun and guaranteed in the resurrection of Jesus. As we study through this letter, we will be encouraged that no matter what suffering comes our way (and we can be assured that suffering will come) we can have a confident hope through our Savior. May the Lord bless our study!
When we think of idolatry we often imagine it to be an easy sin to detect and stay clear of. Thoughts of carved images and statues from the Old Testament come to our minds and certainly no good Christian succumbs to such things. But, there is another side of idolatry that is more subtle. It’s the type of idolatry that takes something good and makes it more important than God. This idolatry doesn’t involve formal worship or a confession of faith, yet it is just as dangerous. Martin Luther once said, “That upon which you set your heart and put your trust, is in reality your God.” Our “Not Your God” series takes a look at several modern day idols that can wrestle away your heart faster than you may think.
Not Your God – Freedom
We start off this series with a tricky topic. We have to be careful when defining freedom because the Bible does talk about it as one of the primary reasons that Jesus came to earth. Galatians 5:1 says, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery (NASB).” If it seems wrong to think that freedom in Christ is idolatrous that’s okay because it isn’t.
The type of freedom we guard against is different. It comes from a different source than faith and it centers on a different existence than faith. This is the freedom of citizenship among nations of this world. Now, you might be thinking to yourself that freedom in this sense is not a bad thing either. It may not be as important to a Christian as the freedom of faith, but it is still a virtuous thing. If you think this you are correct. Anyone who has grown up in Western culture has been taught to value freedom. Citizens of the United States have fought for this freedom and continue to. And it is a noble thing to stand for.
The problem we face is when our pursuit of this nationalistic freedom overshadows the freedom that Christ won for us on the cross – because they are different. Freedom in this world is a temporary blessing that can be taken away. It serves a purpose for here and now but not for eternity. All rights have an expiration date as all things of this world do. The unique thing about faith in Christ is that while it liberates us from sin, death, and condemnation of the law, (eternal blessings) it does not give us the right to do whatever we chose. In fact, faith actually binds us to our Master even more than before we believed because it engenders a desire to serve God. God’s path of righteousness is much narrower than the world’s path of self-proclaimed rights. Paul described the freedom of the gospel in this way, Romans 6:18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness (NIV). You see, no matter who you are and what you believe, you are serving something or someone.
Think of the difference in this way:
Earthly freedom leads me to think I have the right to do whatever I choose,
which leads to an existence without boundaries,
which leads to sorrow and captivity under sin.
Faith freedom leads me to believe that obeying God is the best path for my life,
which leads to an existence within the confines of God’s Word,
which leads to greater blessings for my life and greater glory given to God.
Freedom becomes idolatrous when a person uses it to convince themselves that they are completely independent from any servitude in the world, which is also a great irony because the illusion of total, personal independence is one of the most enslaving philosophies ever. When Jesus said, “Whoever is not with me is against me… (Matthew 12:30 ESV) He dispelled any notion of absolute autonomy. We are always serving something or someone. We live at a time when freedom is offered as an excuse to pursue any self-edifying pleasure. That belief takes something which is noble and forces it to serve as a cover for sinful purposes. This is the freedom that becomes more important than God.
Arguments abound today about free speech and freedom of expression but no one considers the consequences of this so-called freedom. America is becoming more and more polarized on what is acceptable when it comes to expressing or protesting this freedom we have. What our nation has forgotten is that if our highest pursuits and goals are only in temporary things, if there is no higher spiritual mooring for our lives, then we will simply fight and struggle in the same muck and mire that all civilizations before us have plodded through. We can call it the pursuit of freedom if we want – that sounds nice. We can claim to be a greater, more sophisticated civilization – that will calm our insecurities for a time. We can say that we have the right to do what we want – we may from earthly leaders but not from God. Whatever excuses we offer, we will continue to nitpick and fight against our differences if we don’t have anything greater or more important to appeal to than our personal freedom. That’s because we’ll be serving an idol, even if we try to convince ourselves it is something noble.
Remember what Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin (John 8:34 NASB).” We are fallen creatures. We can see the worth in something like nationalistic, earthly freedom but if we take it and use it as a cover for sin or a balm for all problems it will be a mirage of true hope. Peter, himself, warned: Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves (1 Peter 2:16 NIV). There is only one path to true peace and liberty. This path is not freedom apart from God, however, but freedom given from God and received by faith in Jesus. Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:31-32 NKJV).”
Freedom in this world is not your god. Don’t let it’s trappings and pursuits over-shadow what the real, true, flesh and blood God did when He came to earth for you. It is for that freedom that Christ set you free.
In our Bible Study, Pastors Rob Sauers and Neal Radichel discuss the Imprecatory Psalms. The word imprecation refers to a spoken curse, and so these are Psalms which speak curses against the enemies of God and His people. One of the more striking examples of this type of Psalm is Psalm 137:8-9 – O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed, Happy the one who repays you as you have served us! Happy the one who takes and dashes Your little ones against the rock! Christians have struggled for centuries with questions of how to deal with these Psalms, and so our discussion focuses on how we should understand and use them. May the Lord bless our study!
In our Word of the Week, Pastor Mark Tiefel examines the word “tragedy.” When we think of the terrorist attacks that occurred sixteen years ago on September 11, 2001, many of us can remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when those events occurred. The images from that day are burned into our minds. That is the effect tragedy has on our lives. Many in our country are currently dealing with tragedies due to hurricanes and wildfires, and people around the world are suffering due to earthquakes and other natural disasters. At these times, some people have trouble reconciling how God can be a loving God and yet allow these tragedies to occur. As we consider this word, we will see that while God does allow these tragedies to come into the lives of His people, He is indeed a loving God. He sent His Son to die on the cross for our sins, and because of this, the tragedies that come into our lives can actually be used as tools. James 1:2-3 says, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” When we face the tragedies of life, Jesus invites us in Matthew 11:28, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” And so, we wait and trust in Him confidently by faith in the face of tragedy.
In our Word of the Week on this Labor Day, Pastor Nathanael Mayhew takes a look at the Biblical perspective on work or labor. Many people in our world today view labor as a burden or a negative. But God reveals something very different. God has given work as a blessing to mankind. Even in the perfect world God gave Adam work to do in naming the animals and tending the garden. After sin entered the world that labor would become more difficult, but it still can bring satisfaction, and be a blessing to our neighbor. Throughout Scripture, God emphasizes the importance and blessing of labor. But labor also has its limitations. While work is a gift from God, we are not able achive our own salvation before God through our own labor. What we were not able to do, Jesus has done for us. Through His labor (His perfice life and sacrificial death) our debt of sin before God has been paid in full. We are invited to come to Jesus for needed spiritual rest, knowing He has done it all. There, at the cross of Jesus we can find rest for our souls. On this Labor Day we thank God for the blessing of work in this life, but even more, we celebrate the work of Christ for us!
Today on Burden and Blessing, Pastors Nathanael Mayhew and Rob Sauers answer the question, “Why go to church?” As our society has become more secularized and as more and more events are scheduled for Sunday mornings, many people struggle to make regular church attendance a priority. Sadly, when we miss church, we miss out on the blessings the Lord wants to give us that we cannot find anywhere else – those blessings we receive through Word and Sacrament, through Confession and Absolution, and through fellowship with fellow Christians. Our study will focus on the special blessings our Lord gives us through the community of believer in church. We will also consider what church attendance says about how much of a priority we make God and His Word in our lives. We pray that this study will encourage you to see the blessings our Lord wants to give us through the church.
2 Timothy 4:2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.
If you reading this you have no doubt already heard about the devastating landfall of Hurricane Harvey in the Houston, TX area. Thankfully, as of now the rains have ceased and numerous rescues are being made. People are also coming together by donating time and money to the cause of helping the survivors. Such a time of destruction certainly evokes feelings of humility and gratitude for daily protection from nature’s forces.
What you may not be aware of is an unsettling connection between Harvey and the Church, particularly Christians who have very recently taken a stand on the authority of God’s Word. Just two days ago, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood produced a series of statements on human sexuality called the Nashville Statement. You can read the statements here. It doesn’t take long. They are concise. Several pastors and church leaders have signed their names to this Statement as well, as an expression of agreement. While I haven’t studied each thesis in depth, I do believe the Nashville Statement accurately reflects the Bible’s teachings and that it is important to take this stand in our culture.
Perhaps just as importantly, it also does so in a balanced, gospel-motivated approach. So often the accusations of hatred and bigotry are leveled against Christians by those who simply don’t want to hear what God says regarding sexuality. However, you can tell the authors went above and beyond to dispel this image. For example, article 8 reads:
WE AFFIRM that people who experience sexual attraction for the same sex may live a rich and fruitful life pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ, as they, like all Christians, walk in purity of life.
WE DENY that sexual attraction for the same sex is part of the natural goodness of God’s original creation, or that it puts a person outside the hope of the gospel.
Article 14 (the final one) states:
WE AFFIRM that Christ Jesus has come into the world to save sinners and that through Christ’s death and resurrection forgiveness of sins and eternal life are available to every person who repents of sin and trusts in Christ alone as Savior, Lord, and supreme treasure.
WE DENY that the Lord’s arm is too short to save or that any sinner is beyond his reach.
These theses make it clear that the intent of the Nashville Statement is not to unfairly shame or throw hatred on those who struggle with homosexuality and transgender feelings. The superior love of the gospel flows throughout the document. But, that is not stopping many, from the Church to the media and everywhere in between, from trying to discredit the document. There are many points to address, but it is here that I would like to zero in on one particular criticism.
Here’s where a connection to Hurricane Harvey comes in. Many are complaining of a lack of sympathy and charity by those who issued this Statement because of its close proximity to Harvey’s catastrophe. You’ve probably seen sentiments of this nature expressed on the news or social media. It is said that this should be a time to unite, not divide. It is said that Church leaders should show empathy, not judgment. But, are these extremes always mutually exclusive? If someone, like myself, agrees with the Nashville Statement, does that mean I automatically hate those whom it addresses? If I don’t object to the timing of its release, does that reveal a calloused and indifferent attitude toward those affected by the hurricane? What if I’ve prayed for those affected by the hurricane? What if I’ve helped them, either directly on the ground or indirectly through a donation? Have I really shown a lack empathy and understanding simply because I agree with God’s Word?
I think, at best, it’s unfair to make these accusations, and, at worst, extremely dangerous. Think of the passage above, especially as you consider the timing of the Statement. Is there ever a bad time to speak God’s truth in love? Paul says we are to “preach the word, in season and out of season.” Another way of saying this is “when it’s convenient and when it’s not.” Hurricane Harvey is surely a monumental tragedy, but who’s to say it’s any more serious than any other tragedy? Surely, there are always moments in life when something bad is happening to someone. If Christians can’t speak the truth in these moments for lack of sensitivity, will there ever be a proper time? By the way, if you continue in the passage, the type of preaching talked about involves convincing and rebuking. That clearly indicates a message of repentance over sin. How can we do that if we don’t clearly label the sin for what it is – a self-glorifying activity that leads away from God. There certainly is no room for “rebuke” if we can never offend someone.
I understand unbelievers who level these accusations against the Church. But, the sad truth is that many Christians are doing the same thing. This is what makes it extremely dangerous. Faith in Christ, the very things that makes a Christian a Christian, is built upon the Word of God. Friendly fire upon this foundation plays into the hands of Satan. According to Christ’s own teaching on loving one another, faithfulness to the Word is absolutely necessary (John 15:10). I ask all Christians to take heed of these points and be aware of falling into the trap of trusting the world’s words over God’s.
In our Word of the Week this week, Pastor Rob Sauers takes us through the word “confirmation.” The focus of this study is on the purpose of confirmation instruction.
The word itself means, “to establish the truth, accuracy, validity, or genuineness of something. To acknowledge with definite assurance. To make firm or more firm; add strength to; settle or establish firmly.” The King James Version uses the word to describe what Paul did at the conclusion of his first missionary journey in Acts 14:22, “Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” Most other English translations translate the word “confirming” as “strengthening” and that really gives us a good definition of the most basic purpose of confirmation – to confirm or strengthen faith in Jesus Christ as the Savior.
To that end, it only makes sense that this would involve a period of instruction in God’s Word. If we are going to be confirmed or strengthened in the faith, that is only going to happen through God’s Word. We know that from such familiar passages as Romans 1:16 where Paul tells us that the gospel “is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” And Romans 10:17, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Confirmation, then, is really the work of the Holy Spirit, working through the Word.
Though not commanded in Scripture, we can see the benefits of having this time of formalized instruction in God’s Word for our youth. In the Lutheran Church, Luther’s Small Catechism is used as the basis for this instruction. Among the goals of this instruction is to help young Christians distinguish between the Law and the Gospel and to prepare them to receive communion for the first time. 1 Corinthians 11:28 says, “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” Through confirmation instruction, our youth are prepared to examine themselves and properly receive this sacrament.
We should not think of confirmation as a graduation from learning God’s Word. Christian education is a lifelong endeavor.
We pray that the Lord will bless those beginning their confirmation classes so that they will indeed become more confirmed and strengthened in their faith.
In our Bible Study this week, Pastors Nathanael Mayhew and Rob Sauers take us through a study of the Book of Ruth. This book is unique in that it is named after a woman who was not Jewish. Ruth was a from the nation of Moab. She married into a Jewish family and developed a very close relationship with her mother-in-law, Naomi. When Naomi set out to return to the Land of Israel, she encouraged both Ruth and her other daughter-in-law, Orpah, to return to their homes in Moab. Orpah decided to remain in Moab, but Ruth chose to remain with Naomi saying in Ruth 1:16-17, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” In this, we see Ruth’s love for her mother-in-law, but, more importantly, we see her love for the LORD. Throughout her life, Ruth was continually confirmed in her faith in the true God of Israel.
The events in this book take place at the end of the time of the Judges. While Judges describes a dark time in the history of Israel, the book of Ruth is a very encouraging book, showing God’s providential care for those who wait upon Him, even in dark times.
Throughout the book, we see ordinary heroes of faith – sincere Christians living their faith. They are an example of the godly living in ungodly times and a description of Christian love in action.
We see Christ in this book through the role of the kinsman-redeemer. Christ is also a descendant of Ruth as she was the great-grandmother of King David.
May the Lord bless our study!
The beginning of the school year is upon us once again, and so in our Word of the Week this week, Pastor Sam Rodebaugh leads us through a discussion of the word “education.”
The word itself is not actually found in the Bible, but this certainly does not mean that education is not spoken of – far from it. We see the emphasis the Bible puts on educating children from a young age in Deuteronomy 6:6-7, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
A wonderful example of Christian Education is seen in the person of Timothy, who was raised in the faith from his youth by his grandmother Lois and mother Eunice: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:14-15).
Christian Education does not end in early childhood. We see the example of Jesus learning in the temple in Luke 2 at the age of twelve. Even the prophets themselves committed themselves to lifelong Christian Education. 1 Peter 1:10-11 says, “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.” Through these examples, we too are encouraged to dedicate ourselves to lifelong instruction in the Christian faith as we allow God to guide our ways and direct our paths.